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What You Eat Affects Your Productivity

I’m a big believer in maintaining your health and wellbeing in order to maximise your performance in the workplace.  Eating well and taking regular exercise are simple things we can all do that can have a big impact on the way we work.


This edited article by psychologist and author Ron Friedman explores why making  the right choices about what and when to eat can make us more productive.

When we think about the factors that contribute to workplace performance, we rarely give much consideration to food.  For those of us battling to stay on top of emails, meetings, and deadlines, food is simply fuel.


But as it turns out, this analogy is misleading. The foods we eat affect us more than we realise. It has a direct impact on our cognitive performance, which is why a poor decision at lunch can derail an entire afternoon.


Here’s a brief rundown of why this happens. Just about everything we eat is converted by our body into glucose, which provides the energy our brains need to stay alert. When we’re running low on glucose, we have a tough time staying focused and our attention drifts. This explains why it’s hard to concentrate on an empty stomach.


Not all foods are processed by our bodies at the same rate. Some foods, like past and bread, release their glucose quickly, leading to a burst of energy followed by a slump.  Foods that are high in fat provide more sustained energy, but require our digestive system to work harder, reducing oxygen levels in the brain and making us groggy.


Most of us know much of this intuitively, yet we don’t always make smart decisions about our diet. In part, it’s because we’re often at our lowest point in both energy and self-control when deciding what to eat.Unhealthy lunch options also tend to be cheaper and faster than healthy alternatives, making them all the more alluring in the middle of a busy workday. They feel efficient. Which is where our lunchtime decisions lead us astray. We save 10 minutes now and pay for it with weaker performance the rest of the day.


Here are some research-based strategies worth trying to help make healthy eating easier to accomplish.


Make your eating decisions before you get hungry.  Studies show we’re a lot better at resisting salt, calories, and fat in the future than we are in the present.


Instead of letting your glucose bottom out around lunch time, you’ll perform better by grazing throughout the day. Spikes and drops in blood sugar are both bad for productivity and bad for the brain. Smaller, more frequent meals maintain your glucose at a more consistent level than relying on a midday feast.


Make healthy snacking easier to achieve than unhealthy snacking.  Place a container of your favourite healthy option by your computer, near your line of vision. Bring a bag of fruit to the office on Mondays so that you have it available throughout the week.


Research indicates that eating fruits and vegetables throughout the day isn’t simply good for the body—it’s also beneficial for the mind. A study in the British Journal of Health Psychology highlights the extent to which food affects our day-to-day experience. They concluded that the more fruits and vegetables people consumed (up to 7 portions), the happier, more engaged, and more creative they tended to be.


So if you’re serious about achieving top workplace performance, making intelligent decisions about food is essential. The good news is that contrary to what many of us assume, the trick to eating right is not learning to resist temptation. It’s making healthy eating the easiest possible option.


Xenonex delivers innovative and bespoke client-centered solutions in Leadership Development and training across the UK. We work to maximise and transform the way people work. To find out more contact Jo Watson, Business Development Manager on 01423 876371 or email jo.watson@xenonex.co.uk


Suzanna Prout